Response: To Girls About Religious Men Who Fear You

I came across this interesting article the other day by a lady named Soraya Chemaly...

A Message to Girls About Religious Men Who Fear You

I think I can understand what she was trying to say.  She was trying to encourage girls to not be limited by what she terms as "men with power who fear you and want to control you".  She continues in this vein:

I know that I have equated relatively benign baseball games with deadly, honor killings but, whereas one is a type of daily, seemingly harmless micro-aggression and the other is a lethal macro-aggression they share the same roots. The basis of both, and escalating actions in between, is the sameTo teach you, and all girls subject to these men and their authority, a lesson: "Know your place." I also know that there are places where girls are marginalized and hurt that are not religious. But all over the world these hypocritical, pious men, in their shamefully obvious wrongness, represent the sharp-edged tip of an iceberg, the visible surface of a deep and vast harm. They employ the full range of their earthly and divine influence to make sure, as early as possible, that you and the boys around you understand what they want your relative roles to be. Where there are patriarchal religions girls, in dramatically varying and extreme degrees, disproportionately suffer.

She continues to advise girls to reject the ideas of these men:

You, and the boys you know, understand that your bodies are different, but that you are far more alike than dissimilar. Threatened, insecure, adult men say otherwise. Don't give in. Even if you're quiet. The differences these religious authorities exaggerate are simply pillars of oppression used to teach boys and girls that women's subjugation is "natural" and "divine." Reject them and their ideas.

She them implicates the women that are often, she says, "enable" these men:

First, and perhaps the most difficult to understand as a girl, is that women who love you and care for you often enable these men. This is what people say, "It's not JUST men!" And they are right, women support them, individually and in groups, in ways that have private, public, political and societal consequences. But, make no mistake -- although women are the enforcers of rules, they have no real, systemic authority in conservative religious hierarchies, and they know this. Yes, without their support these men could not continue, but until these women are truly free -- bodily, economically, physically, politically -- and their practical and spiritual salvation is no longer mediated by these very men, they will continue to support them. Enforcing the rules is a rational choice that enables them to survive, the world over, in unjust environments. You scare them too, because you call in to question their own complicity and cause conflict within.

So... head on over to the whole article to see the rest of her points.

As I said, I can understand the sentiment. However something about the article makes me uneasy.

I think the reason for my discomfort may lie in the article's conflation of "religious men" with their "ideas", subtly suggesting to me that is it these religious ideas that are at fault.

Perhaps I am reading too much into it, perhaps my high school critical literacy classes are still affecting the way I see things.  However when I read phrases such as Reject them and their ideas... 

I don't disagree completely with Soraya.  There are men in the world, quite often men who see themselves as religious, even pious men, who hold extremely misogynistic, sexist and patriarchal views.  However, that does not mean that we should go out into the world with a "Reject them all" attitude.  For how can you hope to change minds or gain respect from anyone if you approach the world with such an aggressive approach?  Furthermore, it is unfair to conflate the actions of men with the religions or religious ideas they claim to represent.  

I grow weary of people -- both men and women -- trying to "fight the fight" on behalf of Muslim women who are "being oppressed by their religion".

Ladies and gentlemen, Islam does not oppress women.

If anyone oppresses women, it is oppressive and patriarchal cultures that exist around the world.  Unfortunately, many of these nations are largely Muslim, so people assume that the religiosity of these men makes them misogynists.  No.

In fact, Islam came and liberated women, it gave them rights that they never previously had! Check out this blog for a variety of examples -- Islam gave women the right to own land and forbid forced marriages for example, in a time when that was unimaginable.

I agree with Soraya on the gist of her argument however.  We, as women, should not allow ourselves to limited by the attitudes of the men around us.  As long as we know what we are doing is right by the value system and principles that we live by, then we should not limit ourselves based on the opinions of others.

Instead, when challenging the issues that are ever present in our society, we do so by changing our narrative.  Taking control of our own discourse.  Doing what we want to do, what we believe is right and what we can do, without "rejecting" opposing arguments, but with minimal engagement at all. 

Doing things that aren't expected, like being an engineer.

Doing things that we enjoy doing even if they are expected, like shopping.

Simply doing.

We write articles like this one, "The Women's Crusade", which highlights the fabulous work that women are doing in the face of hardship.  Articles like this highlight the difficulties women face, but goes further and shows what women are doing to change that.  (Granted it is a very US centric article, but it does the job!)

That makes me proud.

So I invite all who are frustrated by attitudes they see and experience to perhaps just do.  Trust me, living in Sudan I have experienced my fair share of such attitudes...including from those who are close to me, and I definitely can relate to the idea of "enablers".  However you know what has been most instrumental in changing their minds, "subtly rejecting their misogynistic ideas" and challenging the norms?

Just doing what I wanted to, regardless of whether it's "what women do".

Sure, I get mocked.

But then people start to wonder... perhaps it's not such a strange thing for girls to do after all.


I did learn how to cook though. Because of course... I want to at least be able to cook for my husband...right? Haha.